The Season So Far
Hull City’s only aim this season was to avoid relegation and, as almost everyone quickly realised, it’s damn near impossible. Ex-manager Steve Bruce quit in July, having appraised the year ahead of him and realised that there was no way to save this sinking ship and that his reputation would sink along with it. On the season’s eve they only had 12 first-team players and the owners were desperate to sell. Their squad was short on quality as well as quantity and there was no money to sign replacements. Really, they should have hired Ethan Hunt.
Replacement manager Mike “Yes, Fergie” Phelan was well-known to the players and the staff beforehand, having previously been Bruce’s assistant, and he did well (briefly) in creating a siege mentality in the dressing room and maintaining the tight bond between his players. With such a small squad and such a simple aim, in some ways it’s not surprising that morale was high after the first few weeks, in which a succession of unexpectedly good results catapulted them towards the top of the table. However, reality soon kicked in.
The last few months have been miserable. The Tigers are basically down and they know it. Or, at least, they knew it. The out-of-his-depth Phelan has been dumped in favour of the unforgivably foreign Marco Silva, and, while British football punditry spits its dummy out in outrage at yet another one of them young, good-looking, intellectual immigrant-types coming over here and stealing all our jobs, Jeff!, the Hull fightback has begun. A come-from-behind win over Bournemouth was just the start Silva needed, and Mission: Impossible – Tigers Deliverance is underway.
The Season Ahead
Paul Merson shouting about Marco Whatshisname and how “he hasn’t even played in England, Jeff!” for four months. Alex Bruce signing for Aston Villa on loan. Phil Thompson declaring Hull’s 15-game unbeaten streak and rise to the top half of the table “all Mike Phelan’s work.” Ryan Mason running around earnestly but achieving nothing. Nigel Farage stepping in and campaigning for the immediate removal and slaughter of “that EU spy ruining our National Sport.” Robert Snodgrass moving to West Ham on deadline day.
Eventual relegation due to a total lack of quality and investment, and Marco Silva being hounded out of Britain by the Sky Sports Soccer Saturday cast and crew.
For the majority of the season, Phelan played a hilariously defensive 3-5-1-1 system designed purely to keep the score down and avoid embarrassment each week. Last weekend, Marco Silva went back to basics with an extremely flat, extremely boxy 4-4-2. We should probably expect the same again this time out, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone if he plays a midfield three and tries to eliminate Chelsea’s forward passing options near Hull’s box.
Flooding the centre of the pitch with bodies and minimising the opposition’s chances of passing towards goal has been Hull’s principle aim all season, while looking to use the invention of Robert Snodgrass, Andrew Robertson and Adama Diomande on the break. It’s a sensible strategy given the Tigers’ overwhelming weakness against almost any Premier League opponent. However, an early goal puts paid to that plan, and if Chelsea can score in the first fifteen minutes, Hull will have to come out and attack and things get ugly.
Robert Snodgrass is pretty good at taking set pieces. Abel Hernández isn’t as bad as some of his teammates. Tom Huddlestone really knows how to strike a ball. Andrew Robertson is a great crosser of the ball from the left flank.
[frantically searching for something else to put here]
Nope, that’s really it.
Even allowing for the fact that Hull’s players know that they’re terrible and that they’ve been set up just to keep the score respectable, Hull are seriously, seriously – seriously – bad.
Playing all-out-defence works if you’re good at limiting chances and/or you’ve got a decent goalkeeper. If you’re bad at preventing the opposition from creating chances and your keeper’s total crap, it all falls apart. Case in point: Hull have allowed a ridiculous 18.5 shots on their goal per game this season – only the equally defensive and dour Burnley and the abysmal Sunderland have allowed more. 6 of those shots have ended up on target, and only 64.6% have been saved. Put simply, it’s embarrassingly easy to make chances against them and there’s a very good chance that David Marshall won’t save whatever’s on target.
Their transition from defence to attack is seriously lacking in invention and effectiveness, and unless Snodgrass has a dead ball to stand over, they’ve basically no way of creating chances or scoring goals. They’ve only attempted 10.8 shots per game this season and only 3.6 of those have been on target, both among the league’s very lowest figures. Snodgrass has seven league goals for the season and is set to leave in this transfer window. The next highest scorers are Michael Dawson (yes, that Michael Dawson) and Hernández on three – two of which came last weekend.
They’re just so, so, so, so terrible. And the manager’s not even English, Jeff!
It’s difficult to predict the line-up here but no changes should be expected to the back five, which seems set in stone. A third central midfielder may be added – most likely Sam Clucas dropping back to play in front of the defence – which would leave Snodgrass pulling wide and Diomande joining Hernández up front.
As for Chelsea… yeah, you already know.
If Hull limit the losing margin to two goals they’ll be happy with their lot. They probably won’t. 4-0.